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The Brothers Ben Jacob

Michael n. Bergman



The sages and the commentators have struggled through the millennia to explain the conduct of the sons of Jacob as being ultimately righteous, pious and ethical, notwithstanding the literal text of the parshiyot disclosing the narrative of their behaviour. A literal reading of these parshiyot show, to the modern reader, a dysfunctional family of fratricidal siblings, whose animosity cannot be mediated and only reconciled through circumstance. Explaining away the murderous thoughts of the nine brothers against Joseph and Joseph’s toying with his brothers when he is viceroy of Egypt is an exercise in theological gymnastics.


Missing from much of the commentary on these parshiyot is an appreciation of the larger predicament that the sons of Jacob find themselves irrevocably caught up in. The father, Jacob, grandfather, Isaac, and great-grandfather, Abraham, of the ten sons of Jacob are prophets, addressed by G-d, each informed of the covenant which binds G-d and the patriarchs and their progeny to this day. Whereas Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob bore on their shoulders alone their covenential relationship as the only carriers of the covenential relationship, the sons of Jacob carry the covenant together and are the first growth of Jewish people. They face a predicament: What does the covenant look like and how are they to live as a growing covenential population?


Nine of the brothers, other than Joseph, appear to believe that the covenential life is pastoral, herding animals and seeking pastures for the flock. Their lifestyle is ironically non-violent, contemplative and peaceful.


Joseph, on the other hand, appears as elitist, wearing makeup in the tradition of the Egyptian aristocracy and priests. His dreams are literally of a power and leadership.


The other brothers seems to believe that Joseph’s conduct is a negation of the covenant with G-d and that this negation must be stopped. They believe this conduct is contrary to the covenential life. Therefore, they take the route that Pinchas took at the time of Moses and justify themselves as zealots, permitting fratricide and then slavery for Joseph.


Joseph, as Viceroy of Egypt, faces his own covenential dilemma. Knowing the one G-d, how could he bow down to the idols of the Egyptians as expected of any Viceroy? Clearly, he must have refused to do so. This would put him at odds with the Egyptian aristocracy and priesthood. No doubt the Egyptian elites would be threatened by a Viceroy who held not only different beliefs, but was bound to the one G-d who would ultimately judge the Egyptians for their bogus theology. In short, Viceroy Joseph must have had many enemies, staved off by Pharaoh’s confidence in him. Joseph’s hoarding of grain for the years of famine came with a price for the landholding Egyptians who were obligated to cede part of their landholdings to Pharaoh in order to receive grain, strengthening the power of Pharaoh at the expense of the propertied class. The Egyptian elites must have seen Joseph and his monotheism as subversive, someone to eliminate once his patron Pharaoh was gone. This helps to explain why Joseph did not reach out to Jacob over his many years in Egypt. He feared for his father and his brothers that the Egyptians would kill them, given the opportunity, both to strike back at Joseph and to eliminate the covenant and the knowledge of the one true G-d.


No wonder that a new Pharaoh attempted to suppress the spread of a covenant which denied Egyptian pantheon of Gods and Egypt’s entire socio-political structure.




Torah of the Holocaust

steven korda


It was 1977. We were recently married and decided to take a trip and visit Gerry’s Aunt Rozsi from her father’s side, living under Communist rule in Czechoslovakia, in the city of Kosice. A town with rich Jewish history and population before the war.


Aunt Rozsi lost her husband and two sons during the Holocaust. Remarried to another survivor who passed away after 15 years of marriage, she met Zoltan.  He was also a widower with a similar background having lost his wife and much of his family in the war.


Zoltan was a retired Supreme Court Justice in Kosice with impressive knowledge of the law, philosophy and history.  A true Renaissance man.  They were both very excited by our visit but Zoltan was particularly excited to meet his ‘new’ nephew and to be able to discuss international law (although we did have to whisper so that the neighbors would not hear).


We spent three wonderful days together constantly talking about wide ranging subjects as well as the past, present and his fears and aspirations of a bleak future behind the Iron Curtain.


On our last day, Zoltan took out a small Torah he was hiding in their apartment and relayed its sad story.


During the war Zoltan became a prisoner of war and worked in a forced labour camp with many other Jews. They were present when the Germans decided to burn down a synagogue. On an impulse, Zoltan ran into the burning structure and took a small Torah and hid it inside his coat; then ran out before the building collapsed.  He became inseparable from the Torah, he used it as a pillow and had it with him constantly.  Zoltan ended up on the front lines of the battlefield and as the bullets were flying between the German and Russian lines, he ran as fast as he could to the Russian side, with hailing bullets all around him, but constantly holding the Torah close to his chest.


While Zoltan originally wanted to save the Torah from destruction, he became convinced that, in fact, the Torah saved his life.


Then, on the last day of our visit, he asked us to take the Torah with us in order to rescue it from destruction upon his eventual passing.


Regardless of the fact that owning a Torah and taking it out of the country was illegal and against all regulations at that time behind the Iron Curtain, we decided to risk it.


We put the Torah on one side of our largest suitcase while filling it to its rim with clothing and photographs of our trip.  We were travelling from Czechoslovakia to Hungary in a rented car.


As we approached the border crossing with trepidation, the guard asked to see the luggage in the trunk.  Since I speak Hungarian, I was able to distract him with a lot of questions and nonsense talking about our travels.  The guard ignored me and stuck his hand in the middle of the clothing right to the bottom, somehow missing the Torah.  I took a deep breath and obliged him when he asked me to pack it up and move since I’m holding up the line.


Thus we managed to bring the Torah to Montreal.  Upon examination we were told that either serious repairs were required to make it Kosher or we must give it an appropriate burial.  It took over two years to make the Torah kosher and usable, as it was before the war.  It has been used by the Shaar Hashomayim ever since.


Three years ago in 2016 we were told that some of the letters were chipping and therefore we had to either bury it, put it in a museum or, alternatively, put it through extensive repairs of reconstruction.


We took the Torah to Israel in order to do everything possible to make the Torah Kosher once again. We found a wonderful scribe, Mr. Jamie Shear, an Ex-Montrealer living in Israel. He and his team undertook to reconstruct and repair our Torah.


Almost 3 years later, the Friday before the ninth of Av of this year, our son Justin and daughter-in-law Yael, along with their 3 children living in Israel, came to visit and brought the finished Torah with them.


Our daughter Andrea and our son-in-law Jonathan, and their daughter also came in from Edmonton in order for our family to be together.


On Tisha B’Av, the Torah was returned to its rightful place at the Shaar Hashomayim, with its red cover and six stripes signifying the 6 million who perished in the Holocaust.  I had the privilege to get the first Aliyah on that Sunday morning, the saddest day of the history of our people.




Tisha b'Av





Tisha B’Av is a national day of mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and other tragedies.  We refrain from physical pleasures - eating, drinking, bathing, intimate relations, and the use of lotions - to mark the day as a day of mourning.


This year, Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbat, and so we push the fast off by one day. The fast will begin on Saturday night, August 10 at sundown - 8:09 PM. This is a little unusual because it is still Shabbat as we begin to fast. For those joining us at the Shaar for Tisha B’Av on Saturday night, here is the procedure:


Saturday Mincha services will take place at 7:00 PM. Following Mincha, we will have a small Se'udah Mafseket, final meal, before the fast. This will be a light meal, so if you plan to fast on Tisha B’Av, I suggest you eat something at home beforehand, to make sure you’ve had enough to eat. We will conclude the meal before the fast begins at 8:09 PM, and then will spend some time studying some ideas related to the themes of the day, as wait for nightfall. At 9:00 PM, as Shabbat concludes, we will pray Ma’ariv. At this point we will don our non-leather shoes for Tisha B’av. If you’ll be able to, it is preferable to bring these shoes to the synagogue on Friday before Shabbat begins. The Ma’ariv service will include the reading of the book of Eicha (Lamentations).


On Sunday morning, Shacharit will begin at 8:30 AM. Tallit and Tefillin are not worn at Shacharit. The regular Shacharit service will be followed by the recitation of many Kinnot, liturgical poems of mourning and lamentation related to the tragic events of the destruction of the Temple, as well as many other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people throughout history. The Kinnot recitation will last about an hour.


Over the course of the day of Tisha B’av, it is appropriate to read somber books, or study topics related to the themes of the day. It is also a day to focus on improving our interpersonal relationships. According to Jewish tradition, the Temple was destroyed because of hatred between Jews. This is a day to rededicate ourselves to Jewish unity, and to the ethic of compassion and kindness. May we merit to see a rebuilt Jerusalem, with peace for Israel and all nations.



Rabbi to Rabbi: How to inspire lasting repentance

Rabbi Adam Scheier
A conversation with Rabbi Adam Cutler of Beth Tzedec Congregation, Toronto and Rabbi Adam Scheier
How do we translate formulaic legal steps into authentic character development?
It requires a combination of Halachah, compelling narratives and inspiring anecdotes.
Rabbi Cutler: The Israeli scholar and philosopher Moshe Halbertal recently delivered a lecture at my shul in which he argued that the talmudic narratives about repentance serve not as examples to buttress the laws of tshuvah, but rather as subversive tales demonstrating the limits of legislating the act of forgiveness.
Though guidelines for repentance are useful, a mechanistic process rarely brings about the relationship transformation that is so desired. A rabbi could conceivably replace the Yom Kippur sermon with a read-through of Maimonides’ laws of repentance, followed by the exhortation, “Go out and do it.” But I doubt that would be effective. How do you demonstrate a recognition of the difficulties of tshuvah while encouraging congregants to wade beyond the formal legal requirements and into the murkier waters of genuine contrition, forgiveness and ultimate renewal?
Rabbi Scheier: Recently, my daughter – a Grade 5 student – was reviewing Maimonides’ four conditions for repentance – recognition of the sin, verbal confession, regret, and determining never to repeat the sin – in preparation for a test. I wondered: how do we translate these formulaic steps into authentic character development? Of course, as rabbis we strive to find ways to inspire our modern communities to embrace these ancient values. But you are correct that Maimonides’ words alone would likely not inspire the masses to implement the legal framework of repentance. Perhaps the answer is that we find a balanced formula to convey a message that combines the laws of repentance with compelling human narratives and inspiring anecdotes.
Alternatively, maybe the answer is that the experience of gathering in synagogue as a community for a shared purpose – repentance/self-improvement – is sufficient to inspire, and the rabbis’ words and exhortations underscore, but do not create, the inherent power of Yom Kippur. As the Talmud says, “The essence of the day atones.” As we think about crafting the synagogue experience on this powerful day, are there ways, aside from the essential ingredients of beautiful prayer and inspiring sermons, that synagogues can communicate and deepen the experience of Yom Kippur?
Rabbi Cutler: While fasting on Yom Kippur is a method by which we fulfil the biblical Yom Kippur mandate to afflict one’s soul (Leviticus 16:31), I find that fasting’s primary function is to allow me to focus my mental energy away from “when’s my lunch break, and what should I cook for dinner” and onto more important matters. Similarly, while I don’t think it would work for all (talking in shul being an assumed God-given right), I wonder if a community-wide ta’anit dibbur, cessation of speaking, even for a couple of hours, would enable Jews to let their minds settle on atonement and reconciliation. My shul offers a wide variety of Yom Kippur experiences, from meditative reflection to conversations on suffering at the end of life, all of which are designed to deepen Jews’ integration of the day’s themes. Our new Kehillah Inclusion Service for children with special needs and their families is another non-standard entry point for many into Yom Kippur. Beyond music, liturgy and spoken words, how do you instil the Yom Kippur messages?
Rabbi Scheier: One way in which my congregation deepens the Yom Kippur experience is through a community program called the “Yom Kippur Teach-In.” It takes place prior to the concluding prayer of Neilah and features a panel discussion with members of the congregation. The teach-in tackles topics of importance to the Jewish identity of the congregants, and the multiple viewpoints presented create debate and engagement. Ultimately, our objective is not only to emphasize the importance of the day, but to inspire for the sake of deeper engagement beyond Yom Kippur. I’m reminded of the teaching of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who interpreted Neilah in a very creative way. He said the traditional understanding of Neilah, which literally means “closure,” is that the gates of Heaven that are open to our Yom Kippur prayers are slowly closing as the day wanes. However, the prayer can also be understood as our saying, “God, don’t shut us in! Allow us to take these themes of repentance and growth and apply them to our lives outside of Yom Kippur and outside of the synagogue! As the gates close to our prayers, open the doors of the synagogue and let us out!”


Scheier Family Honey Page

Rabbi Adam Scheier
For dipping Challah we might use this hassidic wish
“May God create yeast in your soul, causing you to ferment, and mature,
possibilities, to reach your highest self”.


Reflections on Diller Teen Israel Experience

Shaar Teens

By Ian Langleben
I had an incredible experience on the Diller Israel Summer Seminar this year. I was able to meet Jewish teenagers from around the world (including Australia and South Africa) and talk with them about what we had in common in terms of everyday life and Judaism, and also about the interesting differences that there were between us. Our group spent the second week out of three in Be’er Sheva with the group of Israeli teenagers that had come to stay with us this winter. It was amazing to see them again and to spend even more time with them. It was also very interesting to learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other political and social elements of Israel’s society through the educational programs that Diller prepared for us.


Rabbi-to-Rabbi: Making Nuptials Meaningful

Rabbi Adam Scheier
In this week’s Canadian Jewish News, Rabbi Adam Cutler, of Beth Tzedec Congregation in Toronto, and I discussed that despite ample opportunity for customization, many couples opt for a traditional wedding ceremony that links them to generations past, present and future.
Click the image to read the article.


The Immeasurable Value of Jewish Camping

Maharat Rachel Kohl Finegold
This week, one could almost feel the collective butterflies in the stomachs of parents and children alike, as kids were off to camp. Whether for a full summer, or a couple of weeks, these experiences of Jewish summer camp have lasting impact over the life of a child. The educational value of sending a child to a Jewish summer camp is unparalleled. The immersive experience of camp Shabbat, or the hands-on learning of Jewish values that can take place on the basketball court, can far exceed any book knowledge that children acquire during the school year.
This piece, published in the Huffington Post a few years ago, describes how Jewish leaders of every denomination and background have recognized the immeasurable value of Jewish camping.
There seems to be something inherently Jewish about summer camp. Indeed, when Jewish adults gather the conversation inevitably turns to Jewish camp memories filled with nostalgia. When two adult Jews meet for the first time, the game of “Jewish Geography” ensues and “Which camp did you go to?” and “Did you know so-and-so who went to that camp?” are the unavoidable questions.
As Eisen has written about Jewish summer camp, “For once in these kids’ lives, Jewishness is not something they are or do off to the side of life, in Hebrew school or synagogue. It is not a subject for debate but simply there, taken for granted, a part of what happens 24/7.”
Click here for the full article.
Have a wonderful summer!


Yeshivat Maharat graduation

Maharat Rachel Kohl Finegold

I attend Yeshivat Maharat graduation each year not only to support my friends and colleagues, to cheer for the newly ordained women (the talented and brilliant Ramie Smith, Alissa Thomas-Newborn and Dasi Fruchter) and to witness the ongoing growth of an important institution like Yeshivat Maharat (now 14 graduates and almost 30 students next year!) I attend each year because it fuels me. It reminds me that I do holy work. It inspires me to hear the commitment and sincerity that flows from the mouths of the founders, teachers and students. Anyone who heard the graduates speak would never doubt that they are pursuing this career for the most noble of reasons, to spread Torah and to serve the people of Israel. Yeshivat Maharat graduation gives me courage to do what I do at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim. The room was electric and the joy was palpable. Thank you for the strength you haven given me, which will last me all year… Until the next graduation!


Musical Notes

Roi Azoulay, Music Director

Dear Friends,
As my second year as your music director comes to a close, I’m compelled to reflect on all the wonderful things that we’ve shared during this short time. Among many of the things that are so memorable to me: the incredibly successful and gratifying Sacred Echoes concert; which I think about often with great pride; the Shaar members who are devoted to our unique and memorably moving High Holy Day services, both in the sanctuary and at Parallel services; the weekly challenge of making each Shabbat service special and uplifting; the satisfaction of working with the great kids of the children’s choir (their beautiful young voices are music to my ears); the notable rebirth of an adult mixed choir, the Shaar Festival Singers, something of which I’m very proud. Of course, there are still so many more extraordinarily meaningful, happy, sad and sometimes bittersweet moments that I have shared with so many Shaar families.
The Shaar’s 170th anniversary is around the corner, and there are exciting musical treats in store for you that are beyond anything you might imagine!
Going back as far as the 160th anniversary concert, we have a wonderful collaborative relationship with the McGill Chamber Orchestra and its Music Director, Boris Brott. On November 10 we are delighted to once again host the MCO for an amazing multimedia concert, dedicated to the theme of Remembrance. The orchestra, our children’s choir, violinist Lara St. John and Cantor Zelermyer will collaborate for a concert that only the Shaar can produce.
Next Tuesday, June 7 is the McGill Chamber Orchestra’s season finale at the Maison Symphonique. It will be an Organ Gala with repertoire by Handel, Albinoni, Ravel, and some Jewish composers as well. I am honoured to have been invited to serve as a special guest conductor at this concert, sharing the podium with Maestro Boris Brott.I would like to invite all of you, my dear friends, to join me at my debut in this amazing concert hall! Shaar members will receive 50% off the ticket price by using the promo code MUSICIENS. Call (514) 842-2112 or purchase them online.
What an exciting lead into the summer and into our 170th year with a sense of anticipation! Thank you all for your kudos and encouragement.
Shabbat Shalom!
Roï Azoulay, Music Director


Summer Internship Program

Our Shaar Family

Work in a fast-paced, dynamic environment providing you with on-the job real world experience.
Congregation Shaar Hashomayim is seeking a summer intern who can help with various programming and marketing related tasks. We are looking for a motivated student who is creative and dynamic and can work effectively both independently and as part of a team. Projects will include:
· Assisting in the development of marketing materials including flyers, banners, brochures, internet and social media for upcoming events.
· Working with lay leaders and professionals to help plan programs
· Helping to develop a social media strategy for the fall season.
Qualifications: Applicants must have been full-time students in the last academic year and be returning to school full-time in the fall. Must be under 30 years of age. Relevant CEGEP or university education in marketing, communications, journalism or public relations. The candidate must have excellent organizational skills, attention to detail, and the ability to prioritize in a changing environment. Excellent interpersonal and follow- up skills required, as well as strong verbal and written communication skills. Proficiency in Microsoft Word, Excel, Internet, and Outlook and social media required.
Salary: Minimum Wage (Canada Employment Grant) $10.75 per hour.
Schedule: Full time: 32 hours per week starting mid-June for 6 weeks.
Interested candidates please contact Robyn Bennett at . Only applicants considered for the position will be contacted.


Rabbi-2-Rabbi: Keeping Ties With Israel Strong

Rabbi Adam Scheier
In this week’s Canadian Jewish News, Rabbi Adam Cutler, of Beth Tzedec Congregation in Toronto, and I discussed the roles that Rabbis and synagogues have in connecting their communities with the Jewish state, and how they work to increase the depth of that engagement.
Click the image to read the article.


Daily Miracles – Passover Yizkor 5776

Rabbi Adam Scheier
What was the greatest miracle that the Israelites experienced in the story of the Exodus? Was it one of the plagues? Was it the splitting of the sea?
In the early 10th Century, the great philosopher and rabbi, Rav Saadia Gaon, asked this very question. He concluded that, while the sea and the plagues were great miracles, the greatest of them all was the manna.
Why the manna? He wrote, “I see that the matter of the sign of the manna is more wondrous than all of the others, for the thing that is more frequent is more wondrous; one cannot image a ‘trick’ that will feed thousands for forty years.” [1]
In other words, there might be a way for the skeptics and the cynics to explain that certain miracles were actually natural events. Some scientists have suggested the plague of blood was actually an effect brought about by a red, toxic fresh water algae known as Burgundy Blood algae or Oscillatoria rubescens.
And you know what? When this algae comes into a river, the wildlife in the river die or leave. The frogs would have left the river in great numbers – there you have it, the plague of frogs! And without water, what happens? The frogs die! And frogs eat lice and other small insects, so when there are no frogs, there are lots of insects! And lots of insects means lots of diseases, which explains the cattle dying, and it explains the boils. And did I mention the volcanic eruption which brought about hail and darkness? And the volcanic ash mixed with the right weather pattern brings about just the exact amount of humidity needed to attract locusts by the millions!
Rav Saadia Goan wrote, that, yes, it’s possible to come up with explanations for all of the miracles. But a miracle like the manna, which lasts for forty years and feeds an entire nation in the wilderness – that’s a real miracle.
His point is powerful. We know what happens when something happens for an extended period of time. We begin to take it for granted. It becomes nature. It becomes a part of us.
And, Rav Saadia Gaon wrote, the real miracles are those miracles, those actions, those great moments and values – that can be sustained. That last.
Perhaps this was the point that was made by Yisrael Kristal. Yisrael was born on September 15, 1903, and was recently recognized by the Guiness Book of World Records as the oldest man alive, at 112 years old.
When he was interviewed about the significance of this title, he said something profound. He said, “I am not emotional about being the oldest man in the world, but it does mean something to me that I have donned tefillin for longer than anyone else.”[2]
The miracle of his life, he said, is not simply a measure of his years. It’s the values that have been present throughout those years. It’s the privilege of having put on tefillin for so many years, day in and day out.
For any of us to be proud of the consistency of religious observance is one thing; for Yisrael, who lived through World War I as a teenager, who saw his children die in the Warsaw ghetto, and lost his wife in Auschwitz, and he himself survived Auschwitz and lived to build a family in Israel – for him to share that his greatest achievement was maintaining his faith throughout…that’s a powerful statement.
What Rav Saadia Gaon and Yisrael Kristal teach us is that there is something miraculous to be found in the daily survival of Jewish faith. There is something miraculous about sustaining Jewish life. That’s what keeps us alive.
Because when it comes to miracles, we could have lived without one or two of the plagues. If the sea hadn’t split – we’re a creative people, we would likely have found a way to survive. But if the manna were to stop falling…the nation dies.
And Yisrael Kristal said, you know what, if I hadn’t lived so long, would my life be less remarkable? But to be able to serve God each and every day, that’s something to be proud of.
And we believe that it’s these small, sustained moments that keep us alive, that keep us connected.
Allow me to share with you a story about a family in New York City who experienced their own miracle.
The Fischer family spent the first days of Passover with their grandparents in the Bronx, and after Yom Tov, they – husband, wife, children – crowded into their station wagon and headed back home to Brooklyn.
They had agreed to give a friend a ride back to Brooklyn, as well, and so they were a bit tight on space in the car. Eli Fischer, the father, was having difficulty fitting that last suitcase into the trunk. So, using bungee cords, he expertly secured the suitcase to the roof of the car.
As they drove at full speed down the Bruckner Expressway, a car pulled up beside them and the man inside pointed frantically to the top of their car. It took a few moments until it finally dawned on the Fischers that the pointing might have something to do with the suitcase on top of the car.
For those here who have driven on this highway, you’ll know that the road has no shoulder on which to pull over. They were forced to continue driving until the next exit, where they got off and stopped the car at the side of the road. Eli got out to assess the situation and realized, to his dismay, that the suitcase was gone. It had fallen off of his car somewhere in the middle of the highway.
He tried to think of the contents of the suitcase: clothing, jewelry. Oy, vey.
He made a u-turn, went back in the direction he came from, retraced his steps…but there was nothing. The suitcase was gone. Eli and his family returned home, upset and disheartened.
A few minutes after arriving home, however, the phone rang. Eli’s wife, Malka, answered.
“Hello, my name is Noah. Where you traveling on the Bruckner?”
“Yes,” answer Malka, becoming excited.
“I think I found something of yours,” Noah said. Noah gave her his address. While the Fishers didn’t recognize the name of Noah’s street, they plugged the address into the GPS, and off they went to retrieve their belongings.
Their sense of euphoria turned to wariness as they came closer to Noah’s home. The neighborhood appeared to be dangerous, not what they were used to. Perhaps, they thought, Noah is a criminal. What if he asks for a lot of money in exchange for our possessions?
They tentatively pressed the buzzer to Noah’s building, were let in, and when they entered Noah’s apartment they were shocked at how completely bare it was. What they quickly understood from looking around and from speaking with Noah was that he was a runaway teenager; he was alone in the world.
Noah explained to them how he found the suitcase. He was riding his motorcycle on the expressway – slowly, because a fallen suitcase had caused a bit of traffic. He looked down at the road, and saw a pair of diamond-studded earrings. He smiled to himself – “I’m going to be rich!” he said.
He looked around, and saw the rest of the contents of the suitcase. He gathered everything up quickly, loaded it onto his motorcycle, and sped off.
When Noah returned home, he opened the suitcase with great excitement – maybe there were more valuables inside!
But as he sifted through the belongings, Noah came across two velvet bags. One contained the tallis and the other contained a pair of tefillin. And Noah then read the embroidered Hebrew words:פישר אליהו בן שלמה זלמן.
Noah said, “When I read the words, שלמה זלמן, memories began to flood me. My father’s name was Shlomo Zalman. At that moment, I resolved to do something that would have made my father proud, and I decided to return the suitcase to its rightful owner.”
Noah then explained that he assumed, based on the direction they were traveling on the highway, that the owner of the tallis and tefillin lived in Brooklyn. He called every Fischer in the Brooklyn phone book until he finally reached Eli and his family.
Eli gave Noah some money, and Malka invited him for Shabbat. Noah still hasn’t taken her up on the invitation, but they hope that, one day, Noah will find the courage to return to his roots, and that they will meet again.[3]
The Midrash teaches that, when Joseph found himself in a position to sin, he was saved by a vision. In the words of the Midrash, he saw דמות דיוקנו של אביו, the image of his father. It was from that image that he found the inner strength.
The strength of our connections comes from these small impressions, small moments.
I recently read about a young man of great strength. His name is Akiva Meir; he is 15 years old, and his mother Dafna was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist at the entrance to her home. Dafna was a mother, a foster mother, a neurosurgery nurse, a woman of great wisdom and kindness.
Akiva spoke about a letter that Dafna had written to him a few months before she died. In the letter, she wrote, ‘You should be able to see success in everything, even if the numbers make it look like a failure. If a person is happy, there is no such thing as failure.’
And Akiva said something very powerful as he spoke about his mother. He said, “The main thing I miss now is her hug. Every Friday when I came home, she would drop everything she was doing to run to give me a hug. If only I could have one more hug.”
What he misses is not the generous gifts, not the moments of excitement or great energy. What he misses is the small, sustained connection. The power of living, connected by a shared moment.
For Saadia Gaon, this was the manna in the desert. The day-in, day-out connection. Nothing dramatic, after a while it became expected – but without it, there is no life; for Yisrael Kristal, this was the honor of putting on tefillin each and every day; for Noah, it was the connection with his father, and the ability of a minor act of kindness to make his father proud; and for us, it’s the blessing of an embrace, of a kiss, of a kind word, of a fleeting touch.
In a moment, we will say Yizkor. As we remember those who came before us, we think back. We remember the small acts of tenderness, affection, and connection. Like the manna in the desert, may these be the memories that sustain us; may these be the moments we appreciate and embrace, for they will give us strength when we need it the most.
[1] הקדמה לאמונות ודעות
[2] Mishpacha 3/23/16 p. 43
[3] Sparks of Majesty, p. 92
Saturday, February 29, 2020 4 Adar 5780